Authorities are investigating the death of an Oregon barge worker who fell into a tank of corrosive chemicals just moments after opening the hatch cover.
Authorities believe the worker, 57, may have been almost instantaneously overcome by poisonous fumes and lack of oxygen when he opened the lid to the holding tank, which contained a toxic, corrosive agriculture chemical called Lignin Amine.
The accident occurred about 10 a.m. Sunday morning (Feb. 19) on Swan Island, off Portland. Neither the man nor his employer was immediately identified.
Missing Worker Reported
Portland Fire and Rescue responded to a call that a worker was missing from the barge. A co-worker said he had seen the man near the tank hatch. The co-worker looked away and, when he turned back, the man was missing, authorities said.
The tank was about 40 by 50 feet and about 20 feet deep. The liquid chemical was 12 feet deep.
Portland Fire and Rescue summoned its Hazmat Team and Technical Rescue Team to help. Firefighters then found a rope that led into the open hatch, which was about 20 inches in diameter.
Authorities said the air above the liquid inside the tank had an oxygen level of less than 1 percent and a carbon monoxide level of 108 ppm—more than double the OSHA long-term limit for workplace exposure.
That oxygen level will cause a person to pass out within a minute and die soon thereafter, authorities said.
Thus, authorities determined, the operation would involve recovery, not rescue.
Portland Fire and Rescue worked with the other employee for about an hour to pump the liquid from the tank into another holding tank. Meanwhile, firefighters confirmed that the man had not left the work site or fallen into the river.
Meanwhile, the Technical Rescue and Hazmat Teams created and implemented a plan to enter the tank if necessary. After about 40 minutes, firefighters could see the man’s body in the tank. The employee finished pumping out the hazardous liquid, and firefighters prepared to enter the tank and recover the victim.
At 1:03 p.m., the first technical rescue team—two people trained in confined space rescue—entered the tank in hazmat suits. A second rescue team was available to rescue the first team.
At the same time, the Hazmat Team prepared to decontaminate the rescue teams and the victim once they exited the tank. Due to the hazardous nature of the recovery, both specialty teams needed all trained personnel to accomplish their mission.
After about 45 minutes, the rescue team recovered the victim. It was not clear what, if any, protective equipment he was wearing.
The hazardous liquid was contained on the barge, and none entered the lagoon, authorities said.
Other responders included the U.S. Coast Guard, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Portland Police Bureau, and Multnomah County Sheriff's Office. Oregon OSHA is investigating the accident.